Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God.
– 1 John 3:1 (a)
It’s just a normal morning. I’m tired, sipping my coffee, and sitting at the table eating breakfast with the kids when I spontaneously turn to Oliver and say:
“Guess what, Oliver?”
He looks at me: “What mommy?”
“I love you.”
He thinks about that for a moment, and then replies: “Yep! Just like God does!”
Oh, how I love his simple, 2.5 year old’s uncomplicated confidence in God’s love for him. For a moment, I feel proud. Proud that he knows, in no uncertain terms, that I love him. That it’s just accepted as fact. That he’s confident in that knowledge. And, to go a step farther, that the very mention of love would immediately point his thoughts to God…
Ah, we’re doing something right with this whole parenting thing after all!
And yet, in an instant, all I can think about are the times when I’m in a hurry to leave the house and he insists on putting his own shoes on, putting them on the wrong feet and then refusing my help, pinching his sister’s fingers on his way out the door that I told him NOT to open to begin with. I think of the early mornings when I’ve been up throughout the night with a teething Clara, my coffee sitting on the counter – still filled to the brim and getting cold – while he debates over which cereal he wants, rejecting each one in turn and persisting on asking me a zillion unrelated questions before settling on the FIRST box I offered. The times when we’ve been in the car for hours and I’m exhausted and car-sick, and he drops his toy behind his seat for the 1209736725th time. The days when he and his sister are clinging to my pants as I try to make dinner, bickering and fighting and demanding. The times when he ignores my instructions to stay ON the potty and there is poop all over the bathroom, and Clara is screaming from her crib as he smears it on the walls too. The days when Clara finally, finally falls asleep for a much-needed nap, only to have him throw an absolute fit over something that seems so insignificant, waking her up in the process.
Times when I’m frustrated and exhausted and at the END of my rope. Times where my patience has been worn thinner than thin and I want nothing more than to run from the house, screaming. Times when my responses have an edge to them. When my selfishness wins out. When my words are impatient instead of kind. When they drip with frustration or sarcasm. When they show more irritation than love. When my tone, or my body language, or even the words that I speak – are NOT what they should be.
And suddenly, to hear him explain in such simple terms that his understanding of God’s love is tied to the way that I love him, feels…weighty.
I think of God, who’s love is immeasurable. Boundless. Perfect. He doesn’t just “love us” – as we would perceive love as an action or as a feeling – he is the very embodiment of Love. He cannot NOT love. His actions, his thoughts toward us, his very nature IS Love. He defines love for us in all of its forms: friendship love, the love of a father, agape love. It is love that has no equal. Love that would give His only Son; Love that would willingly die in our place.
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
– Ephesians 2:4-7
THAT is His love. It’s a love that is not at all dependent on what we’ve done – or not done. He loves us IN our sin. In our disobedience. In our bad attitudes and selfishness and poor choices. He loves us still. He loves us when we decide to ignore his admonitions, and smear our crap all over ourselves and those around us. He loves us when we lag behind, knowing what he’s asked us to do and yet not wanting to do so. He loves us even though we fight with those around us, are unkind, don’t share our things, and throw our own (adult-sized) temper tantrums when things don’t go our way.
He loved us first. He loves us still. He will always, always love us.
Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.
– John 15:13
And, I DO love my son even when he makes mistakes. Even when he disobeys. Even when his poop is smeared all over my house. I love him still.
In fact, it’s a little frightening sometimes just how much I love him.
I’m sure the rest of my mom friends can attest to this, but from the very first moment that he was placed in my arms, it’s as though something changed in me. Something in my very psyche. In an instant, I was flooded with a love more intense than I’d ever know. A love that immediately sought to shelter him. To protect him. To keep him from harm. A love that would cause me to jump in front of a train without a moment’s hesitation if it would save his life. A love that aches when he’s sick, and longs to take his sickness inside of my own body instead of his. A love that is so powerful, so fierce, so protective, so overwhelming at times that it takes my breath away.
And yet – it’s a love that’s imperfect. A love that wants what’s best for him, but doesn’t always KNOW what’s best. A love that sometimes doesn’t show through my frustration. A love that, if I’m not careful, can look like it’s based on what he does or how he performs. A love that will, at times, fail him.
And those simple words that he told me at the breakfast table seem to rip me in two.
“Yes, mommy. You love me just like God does.”
The weight of that statement settles in my soul as tears spring to my eyes.
“Yes, Oliver,” I say, “God loves you very, very much.”
Oh, there is so much more that I want to add. I want to tell him that mommy’s love is just a taste, just a glimpse of the love that God has for Him. That, even though my love runs deep, it unfortunately isn’t – and will never be – perfect. I want to tell him that when I mess up, when I let my frustration come out, when I – knowingly or unknowingly – make it seem as though my love is conditional…these are MY mistakes. My sin. My selfishness. My flaws. The parts of mommy that God is still working on. They do not reflect God’s nature, and they come far short of showing God’s unconditional love. I want to tell him not to define God’s love only by what he sees from me. Because, even though I love him desperately, I will not always get it right. My love is just not going to measure up to God’s perfect, unconditional love.
I am going to blow it sometimes.
And knowing that makes my heart ache. Makes my pooling tears spill down my cheeks.
“Yes, I love you,” I want to say, “But oh, son, God loves you so much more. His love is SO much greater. His love is perfect. It will never, never fail you, honey. Even when mine does.”
But he’s two, and he was already perfectly satisfied with our short exchange and is back to eating his cheerios and staring out the window at the passing cars. I gaze at him, watching him happily chatter away with his sister as he eats, his little fist clenched awkwardly around his spoon, milk dribbling down his chin and dripping onto his arm before running down to pool in his lap, his half-chewed food spraying when he laughs.
I look from him, to his sister, and back again. And in the midst of the breakfast chaos ensuing around me – cheerios flying and volume level rising to a level that shouldn’t be possible this early in the morning – I bow my head, tears spilling into my coffee cup. And I talk to the one who’s love for my children, and for me, knows no bounds.
Father, help me to love them in a way that teaches them what yours is like.
A love that shows sacrifice instead of selfishness.
Patience instead of frustration.
A love that is not conditional.
Help me to love them with YOUR love.
But help them to also know that, when my love – or the love of others – fails, yours never will.
Help them to see a bit of your love through mine, but not to limit their concept of your love based on mine.
May they come to understand the depths of your perfect, unconditional, unrestrained, boundless love for them.
And, in years to come, may they always, ALWAYS know that yours is a love far, far greater than anything anyone else can give.